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Posts Tagged ‘Vathypetro’

It’s just over 40 years since I visited Crete, a lovely villa party in Agia Galini on the South coast. I remember visiting Knossos, walking the Samaria Gorge and getting stranded at the bottom and spending the whole night on the veranda after too much retsina. This was a much more grown up Minoan archaeology tour. Can you have too much Minoan archaeology? Well, maybe, but with good weather, fine company and good food & wine…..

Crete is Greece’s largest and most southernmost of its 166 to 227 inhabited islands (no-one appears to have done a proper count, not even the EU, it seems), the fifth largest island in the Med. It’s only 160 miles from Athens, but not much further from the African coast. A very mountainous island, reaching up to 8000ft, it’s long (160 miles) and thin (between 7 and 37 miles). The population is only 600,000 but there way more goats and beehives and 35 million olive trees!

First inhabited 8000 years ago, it’s the origin and home of Europe’s first great civilisation, the Minoans, who lasted for almost two thousand years, pre-dating both the Greeks and Romans by almost a thousand years, and exceeding the longevity of both. British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans is regarded as the godfather of Minoan archaeology, his partial reconstructions controversial, but responsible for ensuring everything stayed where it was found on Crete, unlike just about any other find in the world. There are palaces, towns, villas, cemeteries and museums full of astonishing finds. Lets start with some photos:

https://photos.app.goo.gl/70FvToq1zYE5uHYs2

We based ourselves first in Heraklion, where we visited the wonderful archaeological museum and nearby Knossos, the palace at the centre of the civilisation with Evans’ partial reconstructions, the Phourni Cemetery and the villa at Vathypetro, with finds in the Arhanes Archaeological Museum. We also ventured south to the Minoan town of Gortyn, the palace of Phaestos and the villa at Agia Triada. On our return, the sand-laden Sirocco wind had turned the air orange and deposited a significant chunk of the Sahara on the land. It was a three-day total immersion that I struggled to keep up with, but the boozy late lunches and dinners helped – Crete has an excellent rustic cuisine with goats cheese, olives, salad and vegetables dominant, and decent local plonk.

Our journey East to our second base, Sitia, took in another Minoan palace at Malia and another Minoan town at Gournia, popping into the popular coastal town of Agios Nikolaos for a non-Minoan break. One of the finest days saw us cross the spectacular mountains to the rarely touched East coast for another Minoan Palace at Zakros, close to both the beach and the mountain gorge. There was a treat on the way home, at the hugely atmospheric Toplou monastery, which now only appeared to have a couple of monks. Back in Sitia, on a sleepy Sunday, Greek Independence Day meant site closures but offered a street parade of just about every school, service and association, in costume or uniform, with a randomness and slickness in keeping with a Mediterranean island rather than a European state.

It was a long journey to our third base in the far West, Chania, but we broke it with a visit to Evans’ atmospheric 1906 Villa Ariadne and the lovely Venetian port of Rethymnon; oh, and another of those spectacular late lunches. Chania was our best hotel, the Kydon, right on the edge of the old town, which we explored after a hazy but lovely visit to Greco-Roman ruins, a Byzantine monastery and a Turkish fort at Aptera, a deeply moving visit to the Commonwealth War Graves at Souda Bay and another lovely visit to a Byzantine monastery on the Akrotiri Peninsula.

I did overdose a bit on Minoan ruins, but Evans’ reconstructions and the extraordinary museum exhibits brought the civilisation alive for me. The big revelation was Cretan cuisine, unique in Greece and Europe and appallingly underrated. A busy but lovely trip, and great to revisit after all those other places in-between.

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